Couper les cheveux en quatre

Idiomatic French Expression

Couper les cheveux en quatre
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Meaning to split hairs, to nit-pick, to quibble
Literally to cut the hair in four
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Pronunciation [koo pay lay sheu veu a(n) kahtr]
IPA   [ku pe le ʃø vø ɑ̃ katrə]

Usage notes: Colorful idiomatic expressions often vary wildly from one language to the next, but couper les cheveux en quatre is one of the exceptions. The French and English expressions are very similar: they both dismiss debates over slight differences as cutting/splitting hair. Of course, since "split" means to cut the hair along its length into two pieces, it’s not quite the same as French’s "cut it into four (pieces)," but there’s no need to quibble about it.  🙂

Par exemple…

Arrête de couper les cheveux en quatre !   Stop splitting hairs!
Il ne faut jamais débattre avec Alain – il adore couper les cheveux en quatre.   You should never debate with Alain – he loves nit-picking.

Synonyms

  • chercher la petite bête (literally, "to search for the little bug")
  • discutailler
  • ergoter
  • être tatillon
     
    informal
  • chinoiser
  • chipoter
  • pinailler
     
    vulgar
  • enculer les mouches
      
    formal/literary
  • chicaner
  • ratiociner

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2 Responses

  1. Fiona Webster 18 June 2014 / 23:13

    I really like it that you give lots of synonyms, Laura! It encourages me to look them up in my Larousse and learn more. And your pronunciation guide helps me with the nuances, like how sometimes an “n” almost drops out.

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